Movie review: Soul

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Kain Stobbe

“Soul” features beautiful visuals and a message that is encouraging during the COVID-19 pandemic

Grace Marcus, features writer

On Christmas Day 2020, Pixar released its first movie since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Soul,’ which went directly to streaming on Disney+ instead of being released in theaters, is a heartwarming movie whose message of appreciating the little things in life fits perfectly in a time marked by quarantine ennui.

The movie centers around Joe Gardner, a New York City middle school band teacher and piano player who inherited his late father’s love for jazz. After years of failing to land gigs and shrugging off his mother’s nagging to get a real job, Joe is offered the chance to play with one of his jazz idols. However, on the evening of the show, he falls down a manhole that transports him to the “Great Beyond” — where souls go after death. From here, he escapes to the “Great Before,” the realm before life where new souls are created and trained prior to their journey to earth. There, he is assigned to train the notoriously difficult soul named 22, who he grows closer to in his attempts to return to life on earth and the gig he is still scheduled to play. 

‘Soul’ overflows with beautiful, but at times indulgent, visuals. Viewers are transported between several completely different aesthetic worlds. The cotton-candy pastel environment of the “Great Before” contrasts with the bleak void of the “Great Beyond.” The alternation between these otherworldly scenes and the warm renditions of New York City give the audience a sense of both fantasy and home, contributing to one of the movie’s central themes of appreciating the mundane aspects of life. However, the multiple aesthetics becomes overwhelming. Viewers are awed by the first scene in the “Great Beyond,” but by the end of the movie, one gets the sense that these impressive scenes are more for Pixar to show off their animation skills than the viewer’s delight. 

In recent years, Pixar’s movies have strayed from their traditional hero versus villain narrative and have become increasingly focused on the more abstract aspects of life. Pixar has been successful so far in presenting these more nuanced topics in ways that remain friendly to their young audience; ‘Inside Out’ (2015) explored how emotions are important to life by representing each one as a memorable character, and ‘Coco’ (2017) included themes of death and loss mingled with heartwarming music and comedy. Although younger audiences may be enthralled by the magical aesthetic of the movie, its themes become too complex for this intended audience, with too few aspects to make it relatable. Even the movie’s comic relief character spends his free time rescuing tentacled monsters known as ‘Lost Souls’ from their misery. Although at points oversaturated with excessive visuals and too focused on being profound, overall ‘Soul’ is a visual treat to the viewer with a positive message.